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The curious Russian afterlife of Steven Seagal

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Judo expert and morbidly obese Hollywood Z-lister open martial arts center in Moscow

Long, long ago – for about 15 minutes – Steven Seagal was a big deal in Hollywood. His movie “Under Siege” made a lot of money. But that was pretty much it. Next came a string of big-budget flops followed by a lengthy and ongoing twilight spent in straight-to-video purgatory.

As for me, I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through a Seagal film. His stiff, tubby frame, extreme humorlessness and mystic posturing make it impossible for me to suspend disbelief. Here in the US he serves as a punch line, part of the flotsam and jetsam of trash culture. Steven Seagal – that’s the washed up ‘90s action movie guy who peddles an aftershave lotion named “Scent of Action,” right?


Indeed, Seagal has sunk so low that a few years ago he starred in an awful reality show named “Steven Seagal: Lawman,” which followed the bloated actor around Louisiana as he helped cops solve crimes. Seagal claimed to be some kind of reserve policeman. In one episode he drove a tank into the wall of a man’s home who was suspected of raising roosters for cockfighting. Soon afterward a member of Seagal’s SWAT team shot the fellow’s dog. A lawsuit ensued.

That wasn’t Seagal’s only bout of legal trouble in recent years. Shortly before the tank incident, he was accused of tricking female personal assistants into becoming his “sex slaves”, while last year a former business partner with known mafia connections took Seagal to court for not paying his debts. All of this scandal and absurdity tends to overshadow Seagal’s claim to be the reincarnation of Chungdrag Dorje, a 17th-century “treasure revealer” of Tibetan Buddhism – much to his frustration, I am sure.

Given all his trouble at home, it’s not difficult to understand why Seagal has been spending so much time in Russia lately. Back in March he opened a martial arts center in Moscow with Vladimir Putin himself. Putin of course is a big judo fan, and Seagal used to be a martial arts instructor. Watching the ceremony on TV, however, I was struck by Seagal’s fake goatee. It was on his face when he was with Putin, but subsequently vanished when he…

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Daniel Kalder is an author and journalist originally from Scotland, who currently resides in Texas after a ten year stint in the former USSR. Visit him online at
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3 Responses to “The curious Russian afterlife of Steven Seagal”

  1. Steven Seagal, dancer:

  2. Magnificent. He looks like a big fat bear, swatting away bees as he lunges for some honey.

  3. Wow, this post of yours takes me back a few years, Daniel … back to the late 80s when those of us in the media still relied upon hard-copy of press packets for new film releases. Arriving in the mail, the folders included photos, bios, film credits … everything you needed to write an authoritative and – it was hoped – positive review of the film.

    I remember the packet for “Above the Law,” which was my introduction to Steven Segal. It did NOT leave me with a very good impression of the man … though I thought the film was okay.

    The press packet had plenty of notes about Seagal and his status as a martial arts master and a bodyguard/security manager for the stars … okay, that was fine, it established his credentials as an aspiring action star. But his quotes? Wow! I thought his contempt for the then-current state of the action film genre, and his repeated assurances of how he would personally elevate said state, really did put me off.

    Hey, I can deal with some arrogance … I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee in his day, and his personality had an arrogant side. But behind his words was a solid foundation of expertise and achievement in martial arts and in film making … something I did not see from Seagal back in the 80s … and don’t see now.

    Good post – as usual – Daniel. Thanks for sharing.

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